April 18, 2022 Desert Tortoise Natural Area

What a challenging time for nature and all it's creatures. The drought is apparent throughout the state. That being said, some areas have fared better than others. For instance, the Los Angeles area where I live seems to have done a bit better than expected thanks to two (yes, count them, two rainstorms). When I was a kid I remember storms lasting for 3-4 days. And they would come at least a couple of times a month in the winter. Now, I'm thankful for one day of good rain.

The desert tortoise natural area in the Mojave is definitely one of the more challenged areas and it breaks my heart to see how dry and dead everything looks. I visited this area on April 2nd and then returned on this day, April 18th. In the intervening time, the few flowers that seemed to have been blooming--and those very few, dried out and were no longer providing sustenance to the animals that depend on them.

During my first 15 minutes in the area, I almost gave up on finding anything as it was just so horrible looking. If you check out this distant photo of a western whiptail you can see what a great deal of the protected area looks like. However, once I traveled further I was able to scare up some life. Always a pleasure to see are desert horned lizards and this one was one of my first good finds at the reserve.

As I came closer to a wash, I started finding more flowers. The nature reserve volunteer later told me that at the end of March they had 2 hours of steady rain. So little rain, and yet, some flowers were able to take advantage of it. Most of the flowers I saw I believe are the result of those rains. However, so many of them look deeply stressed. And I'm sure the animals there are consuming them as fast as they can with so little habitat to provide for them.

There were still many pallid winged grasshoppers around who seem to be having a banner year...I'm seeing many everywhere. And they may be one of the culprits in consuming what little vegetation there is. I didn't see many bees this time however I did find a couple of super cool tiny wasps feeding on wild buckwheat flowers.

Some of the other flowers I found were a gilia that I've never seen at the reserve before, a few booth's evening primrose and several very healthy looking wishbone bushes..another plant I don't recall seeing at this area before. There were also some paperbag bushes with a few blooms--the plants were quite remarkable in that they're quite large and looked almost dead except for a few flowers poking out in a few places. The wishbone bushes which actually were robust were attracting their fair share of insects and I found these beautiful moths on one of them (I think they are orange-banded lithariapteryx but that is not yet confirmed.)

I also saw this small rock bristletail which was racing around the sand. Kind of a cool find in the desert.

Sadly, I saw no desert tortoises this time around and I heard the even sadder news that the one juvenile tortoise that was the source of much hope at the reserve did not make it through the year. Perhaps last year's incredible drought which makes this year's habitat look lush was too much for the youngster.

The other thing I've learned from my visits is that not only is vegetation sparser and flowers smaller due to the drought but their blooming period is very abbreviated. The landscape changes very quickly in this parched area. And perhaps those plants that do make it are better adapted to the dry conditions...in other words, evolving to survive on less water.

My hope is that we get lucky and have a great desert monsoonal season and better rains in 2023. The animals need all they help they can get.

Posted by naturephotosuze naturephotosuze, April 21, 2022 01:38

Observations

Photos / Sounds

What

Desert Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma platyrhinos)

Observer

naturephotosuze

Date

April 18, 2022 10:01 AM PDT

Description

Desert Tortoise Natural Area

Photos / Sounds

What

Wishbone Bush (Mirabilis laevis)

Observer

naturephotosuze

Date

April 18, 2022 10:04 AM PDT

Description

Desert Tortoise Natural Area
The healthiest plants in the area...there were a few. This one was just coming in

Photos / Sounds

What

Booth's Evening Primrose (Eremothera boothii)

Observer

naturephotosuze

Date

April 18, 2022 10:11 AM PDT

Description

Desert Tortoise Natural Area
A few of these in the washes, some looking healthier than others

Photos / Sounds

Observer

naturephotosuze

Date

April 18, 2022 10:15 AM PDT

Description

Desert Tortoise Natural Area
I was down on the ground photographing something when this guy went scurrying by. Hard to get a decent photo of as it was quite small but interesting nonetheless

Photos / Sounds

What

Western Whiptail (Aspidoscelis tigris)

Observer

naturephotosuze

Date

April 18, 2022 10:17 AM PDT

Description

Desert Tortoise Natural Area
Saw a few of these...habitat its running thru was typical of most of the area

Photos / Sounds

What

Yellow Turbans (Eriogonum pusillum)

Observer

naturephotosuze

Date

April 18, 2022 10:37 AM PDT

Description

Desert Tortoise Natural Area
I did not see any leaves on this plant though I saw some in a different area with basal leaves that I am also posting

Photos / Sounds

What

Paperbag Bush (Scutellaria mexicana)

Observer

naturephotosuze

Date

April 18, 2022 10:49 AM PDT

Description

Desert Tortoise Natural Area
Easy to overlook these as there were a few of these plants that looked mostly dead; however on closer inspection a few had patches of flowers that were attracting insects.

Photos / Sounds

What

Orange-banded Lithariapteryx (Lithariapteryx jubarella)

Observer

naturephotosuze

Date

April 18, 2022 11:08 AM PDT

Description

Desert Tortoise Natural Area
On wishbone bush

Photos / Sounds

Observer

naturephotosuze

Date

April 18, 2022 11:42 AM PDT

Description

Desert Tortoise Natural Area
Second of two seen but suspect there were more

Photos / Sounds

What

Star Gilia (Gilia stellata)

Observer

naturephotosuze

Date

April 18, 2022 11:46 AM PDT

Description

Desert Tortoise Natural Area
Same species I believe as the other gilia found but am going with CV on this one.

Comments

Great and interesting post to go with your finds! Thanks for sharing!

Posted by andreacala 2 months ago (Flag)

Really great and informative posts as usual :) I’m glad you saw some flowers blooming and a horned lizard! Do you know how many tortoises could be in the tortoise preserve area?

Posted by desertsolitude 2 months ago (Flag)

Hi there,
Thanks for your compliments. You definitely have to search for the flowers…they were very few and far between but the washes were the best area to see flowers. It’s unclear how many tortoises are in the area. The trails just cover a small portion but I know they do surveys. After last year’s disasterously bad year of drought I’m not sure how many are around but there is at least one that is seen pretty regularly. Mornings are best.

Posted by naturephotosuze 2 months ago (Flag)

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